The National September 2016
SISTER, the calling card from TeenCanteen, is a delightful riot of massive beats, swooning harmonies and the gutsy-sweet wonder of frontwoman Carla Easton and co. Its video, a sun-hazed caper of the four dancing in leotards, party frocks and glitter, is light and hugely fun, like a bag of Rainbow Drops. Best make that a party pack: if pressed for a definitive theme of the Glasgow-based girl group it’s friendship.
It’s one of the reasons songwriter Easton, bassist and theatrical performer Sita Pieraccini, ex-stand-up-come-heart-throb-guitarist Chloe Philip and mighty drummer Debbie Smith took the unusual decision of recording their debut album in mono.
“What I really like about mono is that you get the same thing coming out each of your speakers, so when one of your speakers blows, it doesn’t matter,” says Easton during a break from rehearsals in Hyndland in the city’s west end, a space they share with Joe Kane, the producer of Easton’s more electronic project Ette. “It’s like when you share headphones, but you get to hear the same thing as your pal.”
The decision was also in tribute to the classic girl groups obsessed over by Easton such as The Cookies, the Brooklyn group which variously became The Blossoms, The Cinderellas and Ray Charles’s back-up singers The Raelettes. Brill Building writers Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote for The Cookies, including their 1963 hit Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby). Sleek and snappy, you can hear its traces in the lovelorn Honey or sparky-pop jitter, Sirens.
“I don’t consciously try and write in the style of records that I like, but I’m sure it comes out,” says Easton, who also harbours much affection for polkadot-loving 1980s girl duo Strawberry Switchblade and indie-pop legends The Vaselines. Following through was far from easy though.
“There was a good dialogue over a year with Stephen before we started recording,” Easton says, referring to Stephen Watkins of Edinburgh’s Tape Studios. “You want to make sure the producer knows what you want so they can get the best out of you as musicians.
“We both have a lot of respect for girl groups and that sound and we thought it would be great to record in mono, but we were soon like: ‘shit, this is really hard’.
“But it was really great to do and makes the record stand out. She adds: “It means when we go to record live, we have to kind of pull all the songs apart and put them back together again, so everyone’s parts shape together rather than be layered on top. It’s a hard process but I think we all became better musicians as a result of it.”
The recording of Say It All With A Kiss was partly funded by direct-to-fan platform PledgeMusic, something which allowed them to recruit harpist Aurora Engine and The Cairn String Quartet. Surpassing their target in an incredible three days, the project saw the band playing in fans’ living rooms and assembling pledgers to contribute handclaps to the charm-oozing How We Met (Cherry Pie). Even their label Last Night From Glasgow was initially created by a fan to release their music.
Apart from Watkins, all the artists on the record are female, a response to a curiously outmoded piece of advice given to Easton, who started TeenCanteen in 2011 with Pieraccini following the demise of their old band Futuristic Retro Champions.
“Over the course of four years we’ve been given lots of advice and someone told us to give the songs to session musicians who’d record it, and then the girls could learn it,” she says. “In this day and age, that’s quite a dangerous view to have. I’m all for session musicians. Pet Sounds, one of the greatest albums ever, is all session musicians, the Wrecking Crew [also often used by Phil Spector], who I love, but that wasn’t very encouraging to us as a group of female musicians wanting to get better at our instruments. We wanted this record to be ourselves.
She continues: “It’s not that it’s not for male listeners too, of course it is. But I like the idea of a snowball effect, and if I heard a record that was made by female musicians when I was 15 while struggling at school and doing piano lessons, I would think: ‘No, I’m going to start a band with my pal instead.’”